The Baltimore Orioles continue to defy the odds near the top of the AL East standings as they head into a weekend set with the Braves in Atlanta.
Buck Showalter's squad began the weekend just a half-game behind the Yankees in the division ranks. New York has been on a roll and winners of six straight going into another key East-on-East series in Washington against the Nationals. But the Yanks have not been able to shake the O's who were riding a 5-game win streak going into Friday's series opener at Atlanta.
The Braves, meanwhile, had lost four straight and fallen to third in the NL East, five games south of the Nats with the New York Mets in second. Fredi Gonzalez's gang was swept by the Yankees earlier this week following a loss to the Blue Jays last Sunday, leaving the Braves 2-4 on this current homestand and needing to sweep the Orioles to have a winning stand before departing to face the Yankees and Red Sox next week.
It all makes for a big series at Turner Field, beginning with Friday's affair (7:35 p.m. ET) that pits Baltimore's Brian Matusz opposite Atlanta's Tommy Hanson. The Braves originally opened as 165 favorites on the Don Best odds screen, but that number dropped to -150 by noon on Friday. The total remains at its initial 8½-run mark, and is priced a little higher to the 'over.'
Matusz missed his regular turn in the rotation on Wednesday after an accident during Tuesday's batting practice when he bunted a ball into his face and bloodied his nose. Considering his track record in interleague play, perhaps he was hoping to miss the rest of Baltimore's slate vs. NL squads. Matusz has made six starts of the interleague variety, and the Orioles have lost all six while the lefty compiled a 7.48 ERA. Friday will be his first go at the Braves.
Hanson has bounced back with a pair of nice wins since being chewed up by the Cardinals on May 28 in Atlanta. One of those dubyas was the last time out vs. Toronto, and he also beat the Rays at Tropicana Field last month to continue his success in interleague play. Atlanta has won eight of his 10 career outings against AL squads with Hanson sporting a 4.16 ERA.
Saturday's middle game of the set definitely has the best mound matchup of the weekend as Jason Hammel battles Brandon Beachy in the 7:15 p.m. (ET) contest. The early odds listed Beachy and the Braves at -160 with an 8-run total.
Hammel is still getting used to thinking of starts vs. NL crews as interleague after spending the last three years in Colorado. He saw the Braves five times while with the Rockies, and Colorado managed to win two of those games despite Hammel's bloated 9.00 ERA.
Both of his assignments against NL sides this season have gone into the win column for Baltimore even though Hammel has been charged with eight earned runs in the 11-1/3 innings. Six of his last seven trips to the mound have gone 'over' the total.
Beachy will have had a full week of rest when he takes the hill Saturday. He went five against Toronto last weekend, a 4-3 extra-inning win for the Braves, laboring through those 15 outs on 108 pitches that were the result of five walks to go along with his six strikeouts. Beachy lost his three prior starts, including back-to-back outings vs. Washington in which he issued four free passes each game.
This will be his second career start vs. Baltimore after a no-decision in a 5-4 Braves setback to the Orioles in Atlanta last June. Beachy worked five innings and allowed three runs, one of those on a solo shot off the bat of Orioles starting pitcher Zach Britton.
The series will conclude with a Sunday matinee (1:35 p.m.). Baltimore lefty Wei-Yin Chen is slated to square off against Atlanta rookie Randall Delgado. Chen beat the Pirates on Tuesday (6+ IP, 4 ER) after being thrashed by the Nats in Washington last month (4+ IP, 6 ER) for his only interleague experiences to date. Delgado has dropped both of his outings vs. AL crews, allowing a combined seven earned runs in nine total innings against the Rays and Yankees.
Atlanta started the series with a 19-14 edge in previous meetings with the Orioles. Baltimore swept the first two get-togethers in Atlanta (1997 and 1999), but the Braves have since taken all five series played at Turner Field while going 11-4.